Northern Virginia Delegates restored a multimillion education funding stream that helps high cost localities (e.g. Fairfax, Loudoun, Arlington, Alexandria and Prince William) pay for school support staff. This funding stream is known as the “Cost of Competing Adjustment” (COCA) and has been a part of the state’s funding formula for education since the 1980s.
During this General Assembly Session, the Governor proposed to eliminate COCA funding that sends state funds to high-cost localities, like Fairfax, to compensate us for our high cost of living. The 2012-2014 proposed budget retained the COCA funding for teachers, however, the funds for support and administrative staff were eliminated. The worst thing about the total elimination of this funding stream is that if it does not appear in the budget, then when the next budget is written, it will not automatically be included, thus possibly eliminating COCA for support staff forever.
This problem is my #1 concern this session. Eliminating COCA cuts funding for Fairfax schools by $11 million and perhaps eliminates it forever. I am willing to take my share of cuts in a Recession, but I was not willing to accept a permanent adverse change to a funding formula that already rips us off.
I filed a Budget Amendment to restore this funding item. While the budget amendment failed in Committee, I did not give up. As I always say, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” I began negotiating with down state Delegates. As I stated in the Appropriations Committee, “Eliminating this Cost to Compete funding stream will start a nuclear war on the House Floor.” This past week, I helped prepare a House floor budget amendment that was carried by Delegate Tag Greason (R-Loudoun). And, after negotiating a compromise with down state members, we got the COCA restored. Delegate Greason’s amendment brought back a significant part of the Cost of Competing funds. The partial restoration of COCA for support staff will provide high cost localities $12.0 million in FY2012-2013 and $12.3 million in FY2013-2014. Admittedly, these funds are less than what we currently have under Cost of Competing, but the definition of “compromise” means that you don’t get 100% of what you want. Most importantly, the compromise restores the Cost of Competing formula, and therefore, it will not disappear in future budgets. The even better news is that when you add up all the other funding sources, Fairfax County schools will be getting $61,142,702 more this year than last year! That is a 12% increase in just one year, and when we get our COCA funding, it will be even more!
I am a graduate of our Fairfax County public schools (Rolling Valley Elem – WSHS) and my boy just started in our great public school system. Thus, maintaining the integrity of our school systems in Fairfax County is personally important to me. One of my biggest concerns is to fight for our fair share of funding for all our schools.
The partial restoration of these funds represents a successful bi-partisan effort by the Northern Virginia legislators. While nothing seems to get done in Congress in Washington, D.C., we actually get things done here in Richmond. In fact, for Fairfax County, our success has been phenomenal. Despite being in the greatest Recession since the Great Depression, I have helped lead our Fairfax Delegates in actually increasing school funding. While the rest of the state’s school funds have dropped, Fairfax funding per pupil has gone up by 11%. In 2007, we only had funding of $2,854 per pupil. In 2012, this number is currently $3,193 per pupil. I hope we continue to achieve such goals as we conclude our work during this Session.